Our Slavonic Rite
The life of our ancestors, including their religion, was closely connected with nature, which they venerated as "Mother Earth". They also worshipped natural forces as many deities, the most potent of whom was the god of lightning, called "Perun." It was only during the seventh and eighth centuries, after the Slavic tribes moved out of their original habitat, that the came in contact with Christianity.
At first, Christianity was presented to our ancestors by Roman, German or Greek missionaries, who came from their neighboring countries. But "Slavic" Christianity with the Slavonic Liturgy came to the Slavs from SS. Cyril and Methodius, whom we rightly venerate as the Apostles of the Slavs. Their missionaries activity was limited mostly to the realm of Great Moravia, to which, at the end of the ninth century, the Carpathian region also belonged.
The Moravian prince Mojmir I (+846) succeeded in uniting, under his suzerainty, the Slavic tribes living at that time in Central Europe and founded an empire, known in history as "Great Moravia". His successor, Prince Rostislav (846-869), extended his power southward to Pannonia and eastward to the Rivers Tisa and Bug, Thus, the Carpathian region was also incorporated into the Moravian Empire (cfr. map from F. Dvornik, The Making of Central and Eastern Europe, London, 1949. p.40).
The growing power of Prince Rostislav aroused the jealousy of the neighboring Eastern Franks and Bulgarians. From the Franks, Rostislav took Pannonia and from the Bulgarians, the Carpathian region, thus making the River Tisa the border line between Moravia and Bulgaria. In 862, the king of the Eastern Franks, Louis the German (843-876), and the Bulgarian Khgan (later czar) Boris I (852-888), signed an alliance in order to crush Moravian power. In search for help, Prince Rostislav offered his alliance to the Byzantine Emperor, Michael III (842-867). Seeing an opportunity to halt the expansion of the Bulgarians into his territory and to extend the influence of Byzantium into Central Europe, the Emperor willingly accepted Rostislav's proposal and signed an alliance with Moravia.
On this occasion Rostislav asked the Emperor to send him some Byzantine missionaries who would be able to evangelize his people in a Slavic tongue. Thus, he intended to free himself from the influence of the Frankish and German missionaries. It should be kept in mind that in the Middle Ages the political ambitions of the rulers were usually enhanced by the missionary efforts of their subjects.
In 863, the Emperor sent to Moravia two dedicated missionaries, SS. Cyril and Methodius, natives of the Slavic city of Thessalonica in Macedonia. Provided with the Gospel and Liturgical Books translated into the Slavonic, they began their missionary work among the Slavs.
The Moravian prince, Rostislav, received the missionary brothers with great honor and commissioned them to instruct some of his youth in the Slavonic letters. SS> Cyril and Methodius also introduced the Slavic tongue into divine worship. Thus, the year of 863 can be considered as the year of the birth of the Byzantine Slavonic Rite, which became also our own treasured heritage.
The diplomacy of Price Rostislav paid off. He successfully averted the Frankish threat after the Byzantines invaded Bulgaria in 864. Nevertheless, Frankish missionaries continued the fight on the religious field, fiercefully opposing the Slavic Liturgy. Under their instigation the saintly brothers of Thessalonica were summoned to Rome in 868. SS. Cyril and Methodius, since they brought with them the holy relics of the martyred Pope St. Clement, were received by Pope Adrian II (867-872) with great honor and joy.
Having heard the arguments in favor of the Slavonic Liturgy, Pope Adrian personally blessed the Slavonic Books and placed them on the altar, while the missionary brothers, in his presence, chanted the Divine Liturgy in Slavonic. Shortly thereafter, on February 14, 869, St. Cyril died in Rome and was buried in the Basilica of St. Clement. Pope Adrian II then consecrated St. Methodius as a bishop and sent him back to Moravia as a Papal Legate to the Slavs, providing him with a breve, entitled "Gloria in Excelsis," which he addressed to the Slavic rulers of Moravia and Pannonia:
"We have heard about you what we have been wishing to hear and what we have long prayed for on account of your salvation. Namely, that God has stirred your hearts to seek the Lord, and has shown you that we must serve God not only by faith but also by good deeds. Faith without works is dead and they delude themselves who think that they know God but in their deeds do not follow Him."
"You have requested a teacher not only from this Holy See but also from the devout Emperor Michael. The Emperor sent you the blessed Constantine, The Philosopher, and his brother, before we were able to do so. These two, realizing that your lands belonged to the Apostolic See, did not violate the Canon Law but came to us, bringing with them the relics of St. Clement. Filled with a three-fold joy we have decided, after a long deliberation, to send you our son Methodius, together with his disciples, whom we have consecrated, a man of great learning, steadfastly holding to the true faith, to teach you as you have requested, translating and using the sacred books in your language in all ecclesiastical functions, in the Holy Mass or Eucharistic Liturgy, as well as in Baptism, as it was first done by Constantine the Philosopher with God's grace and the intercession of St. Clement."
"Likewise, if anyone can translate and use the sacred books in a correct and worthy manner, let his work be holy and blessed by God, Us, and the entire Catholic and Apostolic Church, so that you may more easily learn the commandments of God. Observe, however, this one prescription: At the Mass of the Epistle and the Gospel are to be read first in Latin and then in Slavonic, so that the words of the Holy Scripture may be fulfilled: 'Praise the Lord all ye nations', and again: "All the various nations will praise the wonderous works of God as the Holy Spirit shall give them to speak.'
"If any incoming teacher turns the people away from the truth, or dares to reverse these regulations, condemning the books in your language, let him be excluded from communion and from the Church, until he amends. Such are wolves and not sheep, by their fruits you shall know them. Keep away from them."
"But you, my dear children, listen to the commandments of God and do not disobey the teachings of the Church, that you may have found true in the worship of God, our heavenly Father with all the Saints, Amen." (cfr. M. Lacko, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Rome, 1963, p. 156-158).
In 880, St. Methodius was forced once again to defend himself and the Slavonic Rite before the Vicar of Christ. He found in Pope John VIII (872-882) a staunch defender, who on that occasion issued the bull "Industriae Tuae," dated June, 880 (cfr. the bull in F. Grivec-F. Tomsic, Fontes, Zagreb, 1960, p 72-73). The Pope absolved St. Methodius of all false accusations of heresy and confirmed him once again as Archbishop of Moravia and Pannonia. He also imposed on Methodius' adversary, Bishop Wiching of Nitra, to submit to the jurisdiction of St. Methodius as to his Metropolitan. Pope John VIII also reconfirmed the use of the Slavonic Liturgy:
"We rightly approve the Slavic letters devised by Constantine the Philosopher, that by their means God may be truly praised. We also direct that the words and acts of our Lord Jesus Christ (i.e. the Gospel) be explained in that language. For not only in three languages, but in all, we must praise God according to the Holy Scripture, which says: 'Praise the Lord all nations, praise Him all peoples'.
"It is not in any way against true faith or doctrine to chant the Liturgy or to read the Holy Gospel or the Sacred Lessons of the New Testament in the Slavonic language, provided they are well translated and interpreted, or to chant other canonical hours (i.e. Liturgical Services)>"
These two papal documents, the breve of Pope Adrian II "Gloria in Excelsis", issued in 869, and the bull of Pope John VIII "Industriae Tuae", issued in 880, are the canonical basis of our Slavonic Rite, which was initiated by the Apostles of the Slavs, SS. Cyril and Methodius, at the dawn of their Moravian mission in 863.